If you selet the right items, you can easily transform a spare five minutes into an exciting and valuable show-and-tell presentation. The following objects and techniques can be used to start a class period or develop a dialog with students:
- Amazing toys. You'd be surprised how many toys are fun to watch and can teach a physics lesson or a lesson in perception. Just wander through The Nature Company store or even Zany Brainy to find little toy puzzles that make great class period starters or discussion starters.
- Technology toys. Toy makers are often on the leading edge of using new technology to make toys. I recently found a baseball card that employed ripple-edge technology to produce a 3 second video on a flat card. It's an old technology newly implemented - by moving the card from right to left, the image changes.
- A great toy, called "Big Loader," (see it on my Creative Teaching Materials Website in the toys section) demonstrates a lot of great things. Although the makers think it's a toy for 3 - 6 year olds, even adults are fascinated by this toy. At its simplest, a truck moves from point to point and dumps, picks up, reverses, moves, and so on, all in a continuous operation that goes on over and over again. Although it actually does nothing, it's fascinating to watch. Some kids will watch for hours. I've used it to see how students react. "Why do you have a kid's toy in class?" I think I can tell a little about a student's attention span by how long he watches it. Sometimes I have the class watch it and then write down the steps the toy takes in order. It's interesting to compare step lists. Some students will have seven or eight, others will have thirty. I even used this toy to demonstrate how a computer program works - step by step - and in ordered sequence.
- Parts is parts. I teach computer science, so I often have computer parts, chips, guts, devices, etc. so that kids can see what these things are like on the inside. In fact, any device that you can take apart enough so that kids can see what goes on inside makes a great show-and-tell object. It's amazing how many kids HAVEN'T seen the inside of common objects. No matter what you teach, there are objects that you can show that haven't been seen by many students.
- Historical items. Remember that "history" might easily be defined as anything that happened before you were born. Kids are sometimes fascinated by things you had as a child or a younger adult. I got a great reaction when I showed an old 3-D comic book (remember the ones that came with red and blue plastic glasses?). They aren't as popular as they once were, and many students had never seen one. A colleague of mine had a lot of fun examining the culture of the 1970's using a "Mad" magazine from that era.
- Guess what it is? Find an unusual part or object and show to the class. Ask them to tell you what it is, what it does, or what it's from. I showed a glass vacuum tube (they're a little hard to find, but uncommon in the age of the transistor and microchip) and had a lot of fun listening to student explanations. Most hadn't seen a vacuum tube before (although technically, the monitor you're viewing this on is a vacuum tube - unless you're lucky enough to have a good LCD screen on your laptop or your desktop).
- The 5 minute video. I keep a collection of short videos that I use from time to time. My collection contains great commercials that illustrate a point or have a moral (yes, there are some that can actually educate). As you watch TV, keep an eye out for a short segment or a commercial that might have value in your classroom. I have a great video segment on roller coasters, another on a huge domino collapse, and another showing the earth from space. I was amazed at how many kids had never really looked at video shot by the astronauts from space. I also have some segments from films that I show from time to time. For example, I have cuts from "2001: A Space Odyssey" that I use when I teach computer science and we discuss artificial intelligence. No matter what you teach, there's a film with a segment that will enhance your lessons. I know a biology teacher who uses segments from "Aliens" as part of his discussion on exobiology (the science of what extraterrestrials might be like). He uses the predictions of exobiologists to explain human biology. The students are fascinated. Of course, you should be sure that any video you show is appropriate to your students' age group and culture.